Two British physicists claim that they have pinpointed the date of a well-known event in the Old Testament and verified its historicity using astronomical data. However, a Christian astrophysicist says that their conclusion is faulty and does not align with the biblical text.
In a recent report published in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University and Graeme Waddington of Oxford University describe an annular solar eclipse that occurred on October 30, 1207 B.C.
“In an annular eclipse, the silhouette of the moon’s disc is surrounded by a thin annulus of light from the uneclipsed sun and the level of illumination on the Earth is roughly equivalent to dusk,” the physicists explained.
Humphreys and Waddington calculated that the annular eclipse of October 1207 B.C. was visible from the land of Canaan. They say the eclipse could help explain a puzzling event described in Joshua 10, when the sun stood still during one of the Israelites’ battles.
“[Joshua] said in the sight of Israel, ‘Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon,’” Joshua 10:12 states.
“And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies,” reads the following verse. “Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.”
“And there was no day like that before it or after it,” verse 14 adds.
Because the Hebrew word for “stood still” can also be translated “silent” or “dumb,” the British physicists say it is plausible that this account in Joshua describes the solar eclipse of 1207 B.C., when “the sun and moon stopped doing what they normally do.”
“In other words,” the scientists wrote in their report, “the text is referring to a solar eclipse, when the sun stops shining. As a solar eclipse can only occur when the moon is directly between the earth and the sun, the moon itself is not visible and so it is not reflecting sunlight to the Earth—like the sun, it has ‘stopped shining’ as well.”
“Modern English translations, which follow the King James translation of 1611, usually interpret this text to mean that the sun and moon stopped moving,” said Humphreys, according to a statement from the University of Cambridge. “But going back to the original Hebrew text, we determined that an alternative meaning could be that the sun and moon just stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining.”
Not only could the eclipse make sense of the biblical account, but the date of 1207 B.C. agrees with other evidence suggesting that the Israelites were waging war with the Canaanites during that time.
According to the scientists’ calculations, the solar eclipse was visible in the late afternoon and evening, from about 3:30 p.m. to sunset. During the eclipse’s peak, 86% of the solar disc’s area was covered by the moon.
As the eclipse progressed, the Israelites would have witnessed a strange early dusk that significantly decreased the sun’s brightness in the late afternoon. But then the day would have appeared to be extended as the sun’s brightness was somewhat restored after the eclipse’s peak, before darkness finally enveloped the land after sunset.
“In pre-scientific cultures such an unexpected deviation from normal behaviour on the part of the sun could only inspire awe and the perceived change in the ambient light level would naturally lend itself to description in terms of the normal order of things—namely, dusk,” Humphreys and Waddington wrote. “What the Israelites would have witnessed was a double dusk.”
“If accepted, this appears to be the oldest solar eclipse recorded,” they outlined.
However, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle, the founder of the Biblical Science Institute, told Christian News Network that the conclusion put forward by Humphreys and Waddington “does not fit the biblical text.”
“Joshua 10:13 uses two different Hebrew words to describe the stopping of the sun in the sky; one meaning to cease, the other to stop or stand still,” he explained. “Together, they clearly indicate that the author meant to convey the idea that the sun’s apparent motion was halted.”
“Furthermore, the text says that ‘the sun stopped in the middle of the sky’ (a clear indication that its normal apparent motion was halted), ‘and did not hasten to go down’ (to continue its diurnal motion) ‘for about a whole day’ (so the day was much longer than usual),” Lisle continued. “This is not what happens during a solar eclipse.”
He additionally outlined that because the sun stood still in the middle of the sky for Joshua, the event likely took place around noon. However, as Humphreys and Waddington describe their cited solar eclipse as occurring between 3:30 to sunset, the two events cannot be one in the same.
“Joshua 10:14 says that there was no day like that before or after it. But there have been many solar eclipses throughout history,” Lisle also noted. “The text clearly means to portray a miraculous event that will never be repeated.”
He said that understandably “[s]ometimes people are eager to explain everything in Scripture by natural phenomena.”
“But God is not limited to natural processes,” Lisle proclaimed.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include rebuttal from Dr. Jason Lisle of the Biblical Science Institute.