Bible passage may shed light on first recorded eclipse, reign of Egyptian dynasty

A bible passage in the 10th chapter of the Book of Joshua could be the first recorded instance of a solar eclipse.
By Tyler Henderson | Nov 02, 2017
The Old Testament Book of Joshua may have the first recorded reference to a solar eclipse, a new study in the journal Astronomy & Geophysics reports.

The text is in the 12th and 13th verses of the 10th chapter of the Book of Joshua. In the King James version of the Bible, the passage reads, "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. So, the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."

That paragraph comes from the story where Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan -- the area that makes up today's Israel and Palestine -- and beat back the Amorites. What makes it significant is that the text could refer to a solar eclipse, which would have occurred 810 years ago.

Researchers believe the reference discusses an eclipse because it talks about the sun and moon "standing still." In addition, the original Hebrew uses a root word that, in Babylonian, can also describe eclipses.

"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 lead author Colin Humphreys, a materials science professor at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. "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. In this context, the Hebrew words could be referring to a solar eclipse."

Past studies have attempted to prove this eclipse hypothesis by linking the Book of Joshua to a stele from the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah that mentions a campaign against the people of Israel in Canaan. While thattimeline puts the Israelites in Canaan between 1500 B.C. and 1050 B.C., previous astronomical calculations showed no total solar eclipses in that period.

To make sense of the conflicting data, the team in the new studyexpanded the search to include both total and annular eclipses. That revealed anannular eclipse that was visible from Canaan on Oct. 30, 1207 B.C.

That date is important because, not only does it shed light on past astrological events, but it may also help researchers collect data the reign of Ramesses the Great. Ancient timelines are hard to decipher. However, if the eclipse did occur at that time, it means Ramesses the Great ruled Egypt from 1276 B.C. to 1210 B.C.

"The precise dates of the pharaohs have been subject to some uncertainty among Egyptologists, but this new calculation, if accepted, could lead to an adjustment in the dates of several of their reigns and enable us to date them precisely," added Humphreys, according to Live Science.

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