A major miracle in the Bible was actually just a solar eclipse, according to a new study that also answers an ancient Egyptian mystery at the same time.
Two researchers claim to have decoded a strange reference to the sun and the moon in the Bible. It’s not a miracle as suggested, they say, but rather just a spectacular but natural movement of the stars.
And it is actually the first time that such an event, the solar eclipse, was documented.
The mysterious text reads: “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon. And the Sun stood still, and the Moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.”
Explanations vary, including suggestions that the wording depicts a miracle in which the movement of the heavens appears to be slowed. But the phrase actually refers to a solar eclipse, the new paper suggests.
It does that not only by looking at the historical records to find out whether there was an astronomical event around that time, but also correcting what the researchers believe was a major mistranslation from the original Hebrew that led to the mistake.
Scientists said that whatever the mysterious verse is referring to sounds like a major astronomical event – and so it is important to find out what it is talking about.
“If these words are describing a real observation, then a major astronomical event was taking place – the question for us to figure out is what the text actually means,” said paper co-author Professor Sir Colin Humphreys from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy.
To work that out they headed back to the text, as well as exploring how scientific understanding has changed since the words were written and translated.
“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.
“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, when the moon pbades between the earth and the sun, and the sun appears to stop shining. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Hebrew word translated ‘stand still’ has the same root as a Babylonian word used in ancient astronomical texts to describe eclipses.”
Scientists had previously tried to date the eclipse to some time between 1500 and 1050BC, when the Israelites were known to have been in the right area. But they mostly failed, not finding the necessary eclipse at the right time.
But that was because they were looking through the records for solar eclipses, the researchers suggest in their new study. Instead they looked for an annular eclipse, when the moon pbades in front of the sun but is too far away to cover it up entirely – and which was described using the same word.
They found that the only annular eclipse during the relevant period would have been seen on the afternoon of 30, October, 1207BC. If that’s correct, it will be the first ever eclipse known to have been documented.
As well as being a major finding in itself, the discovery helps explain the Bible’s strange pbadage. And it might even solve an ancient Egyptian mystery, since if the date is correct it can also be used to work out when Ramesses the Great and his son Merneptah reigned in ancient Egypt.