The Sun Stood Still

Israel had made a treaty with the Gibeonites, and they were spared when Israel was about the business of conquering the lands that God had given her. The Amorite kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon gathered their armies and moved against Gibeon, which they now considered a threat. (Joshua, Chapters 9 & 0 ). With the armies of the five kings camped about their city, the people of Gibeon pleaded with Joshua to come to their aid. Joshua took the issue of their request before the Lord (Joshua 10). God told Joshua not to fret, for He would take a hand in the coming battle. And take a hand He did:

Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night. And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah. And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.--Joshua 10-11, KJV

The above describes a running battle down the road to Beth Horon and beyond. It must have been a terrible slaughter as Joshua and his men, with God's aid, hacked and chopped at the Amorites. To add to the carnage, the Creator of all Things cast down great hailstones from the heavens, and these killed more Amorites than did the warriors of Israel. There must have been a great number of warriors in the Amorite armies, for it seems that Joshua grew concerned that there would not be enough time to utterly destroy them before the sun went down, thereby providing cover for some to escape. Joshua spoke with the Lord sometime during that day and, in plain sight of his army, uttered these words:

Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. 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, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel.--Joshua 10:12-14, KJV

Some say that the sun didn't really stand still in the heavens. There are those who argue that what happened was a solar eclipse that hid the sun, thereby providing Joshua's men a brief respite from its direct heat as they went about the business of slaughtering the Amorites. Others argue that what happened was just a refraction of the sun's light that was confined to the battlefield area, similar to the localized darkness that Moses, under God's guidance, called down on Egypt.(Exodus 10:21-23 ).

Then, there are those who would argue that the sun never really stood still in the sky. After all, they posit, the very laws of physics militate against such a possibility. In this group are those who opine that Joshua 10:13 is merely an a literary device--language of observation--intended to show that, to Joshua's men the sun appeared to have paused in its progress across the heavens. Surely, they suggest, it must have seemed that way to the Isrealites for, with God's help, they accomplished in a single day what normally should have taken much more time.

And there are some who claim that Joshua 10:13 is simply poetic hyperbole, and not be considered a literal fact.

So. What's the story? Did the sun actually stop and hang unmoving in the sky over Israel's slaughter of the Amorites?

I say that the account is true; that there is no reason to consider it as anything other than a report of the sun's literally having stood still in the sky. To consider it any other way is to reject the clear meaning of the words used in Joshua 10:12-14, and to call into question the great power of God the Creator of all things. If God could create all the heavens and the earth and everything on and in them by an act of His will, does it seem so outlandish that He could also temporarily suspend the physical laws that govern the operation of His universe?

I say that this event should be viewed as an outright miracle of incredible proportions. The words are clear enough: Joshua, an agent of God's will, actually stood up in front of his army and commanded the sun to stand still. And it did. At least it appeared that it did. More likely, at least to my mind, either the earth stopped revolving or the sun moved in such a way as to keep the battlefield perfectly illuminated during the great battle. The moon also stopped its rotation. And so Joshua and the Isrealites had plenty of light in which to finish the battle and win total victory.

Anyone who knows anything at all about the laws of motion, centrifugal force, etc., likely is now sputtering, "If the earth, sun or moon suddenly stopped orbiting, rotating, revolving they would be ripped asunder in milliseconds. In fact, they might argue, this whole section of the galaxy, perhaps the entire universe, would be made a shambles.

And so it would seem. Science proves conclusively that none of the heavenly bodies involved in this alleged miracle could have performed as the words of Scripture state.

But has science proved the Bible account of the sun's miraculous halt over Joshua's battlefield to be a fiction? I've encountered a number of college science students who declare that to be the case. But what do scientists have to say about that?

When it comes to science concerning the heavens and heavenly bodies, I should think that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) might be considered a knowledgeable source of information. NASA operates a website they call Ask A High Energy Astronomer, at which NASA scientists respond to questions from readers. Someone asked whether Joshua 10:13 can be confirmed. What follows is the scientists' response:

The Question

Can the event that took place in Joshua 10:13 be confirmed, for example by counting the positions of heavenly bodies backward in time?

The Answer

According to the laws of physics, there are only two possible explanations for having the Sun stand still in the sky for a day: (1) the Earth would essentially have to stop spinning on its axis...for which there is no evidence. -or- (2) the Sun would have to start moving about in the solar system in a very specific way so that it appeared to us on our spinning Earth to be standing still. There is no evidence of this occurring either.

We, too, have heard an "urban legend" about scientists at NASA GSFC finding the "missing day" in computer calculations of the motions of the planets. The legend has been around for longer than NASA itself, but turned into a NASA "event" sometime in the 60's. The story goes that some scientists were doing orbital mechanics calculations to determine the positions of the planets in the future, for use in determining the trajectories of future satellite missions. They realized they were off by a day. A biblical scholar in the lot remembered the passage from Joshua and all was set right. But these events, in fact, never occurred. It is easy to understand why:

The "GSFC finds missing day" urban legend doesn't make sense for the following reason. If we want to know where the planets will be in the future, we use accurate knowledge of their initial positions and orbital speeds (which would be where they are located now), and solve for their positions for some time in the future. We solve a very well determined set of equations that describe their motions. The major dynamical component of any planet's orbital motion is determined by solving an equation (force is equal to the mass times the acceleration) which is the perhaps the most fundamental in classical physics. The validity and predictive power of this equation are well documented and can be seen every day: a recent example is the lunar eclipse that was visible to much of the world last Sunday. This calculation would not cover any time before the present, so some missing day many centuries ago, if it had occurred, could not be uncovered with this method.

In general, trying to prove events that are said to have occurred in the Bible, using scientific principles, doesn't work. Most scientists draw a clear distinction between things that are taken on faith, and those that are testable and therefore falsifiable. Science deals with the later, and religion with the former. [My Emphasis]

Check out:

Brunvand, Jan Harold (1984) The Choking Doberman and Other "New" Urban Legends. W. W. Norton and Company, pp. 198-199.

Brunvand, Jan Harold (1991) The Missing Day in Time, paper presented at the annual conference of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), Berkeley, California, May 4.

Loftin, Robert W. (1991) Origin of the Myth About a Missing Day in Time. Skeptical Inquirer. vol. 15, no. 4, Summer, pp. 350-351.

McIver, Tom (1986) Ancient Tales and Space-Age Myths of Creationist Evangelism. Skeptical Inquirer. vol. 10, no. 3, Spring, pp. 258-276.

and Talk.Origins Archive Feedback for June 1998

Has NASA Discovered a Missing Day? From Reason & Revelation--A Monthly Journal on Christian Evidences. vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 17-19 (May 1991)

Joshua's Long Day by James Kiefer. . .

Regards,

Padi Boyd and Laura Whitlock
for Ask a High-Energy Astronomer

Questions on this topic are no longer responded to by the "Ask a High-Energy Astronomer" service. See
http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/ask_an_astronomer.html
for help on other astronomy Q&A services.

Home | More Odds & Ends | Catholic Stuff | PTG Message Forum