Astronomers indicate that a strange Bible passage could be true

Battle of Gibeon: A partial solar eclipse would have played an important role. Credit: Gustave Doré

Much of what is written in the Bible cannot be taken literally. But at least some passages, seemingly inexplicable in the light of science, may have been real.

One of them, in Book of Joshuait says: “Sun, stop [hebraico dôm] on Gibeon, and you, Moon, on the valley of Aijalon! And the sun stood still, and the moon stood still [hebraico amad]until the nation takes revenge on its enemies.

In 2017, astronomers Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington, based on other translations of the text and their scientific knowledge, began to analyze the passage considering it as a possible reference to a solar eclipse. They exposed their theory in an article published recently in the magazine Astronomy and Geophysics and sent to the site IFLScience.

“The Hebrew word Sun it means to be silent, dumb or still. The term beloved is a broader word meaning to stop or stay, depending on the King James Bible, translated in 1611, and assumed that the Hebrew text meant that the Sun and Moon had stopped moving,” the team wrote in their paper. “However, another plausible meaning is that the Sun and Moon have stopped doing what they normally do: they have stopped shining. In other words, the text refers to a solar eclipse, when the sun stops shining.

partial eclipse

It had already been demonstrated that no total eclipse had occurred in this region of the Near East during the potential period of the battle. However, the team thought it might be a partial eclipse. A later passage from the Book of Joshua states that “the sun did not hasten to set for about a whole day”.

The team thinks this may be due to dips in light as the eclipse approached dusk.

“In the afternoon, sunlight in Canaan began to decrease from its normal level around 3:30 p.m. until about 4:50 p.m. it was about 10 times less intense than normal and dusk set in” , the team wrote. “However, at around 5.10 p.m. the level of light would have been restored a little before dusk returned and the Sun finally set at around 5.38 p.m.

In pre-scientific cultures, an unexpected departure from normal behavior on the part of the Sun could only inspire admiration, and the perceived change in ambient light level naturally lent itself to description in terms of the normal order. things – that is, twilight.

What the Israelites would have witnessed was a double twilight.


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Humphreys and Waddington recall that as the eclipse approached, the Moon was in conjunction, meaning the satellite was not bright in the sky. They speculate that the Israelites – who were well aware of this cycle – might have used the darkened skies as a way to disguise their initial attack on Gibeon.

data review

From there, astronomers searched for potential solar eclipses, using certain information to help them narrow the search.

They knew rough estimates of the dates of the rulers involved in the battle. Pharaoh Merneptah, for example, is dated to have reigned from 1213 BC to 1203 BC – at most 1194 BC

They found only one eclipse visible from potential battlefields over a period of nearly 500 years.

“From our calculations, we find that the only annular eclipse visible from Gibeon between 1500 and 1050 BC. […] it was October 30, 1207 BC. AD, in the afternoon.

The study can serve as a reference for more dates. “We date [o eclipse] October 30, 1207 BC. AD, making it possibly the oldest datable solar eclipse on record,” the team wrote in their paper. “This allows us to refine dates for some Egyptian pharaohs, including Ramses the Great.

It also suggests that the expressions currently used to calculate changes in Earth’s rotation rate can be reliably extended up to 500 years, from 700 BC to 1200 BC.”



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