These events, which are recorded in the 10th chapter of the book of Joshua, actually occurred on 30 October 1207 BCE, if we are to believe a study published last year by Cambridge University.
Verse 12 of Joshua 10 reads vayydom ha-shemesh, v’yareach ‘amad and is usually translated as the sun stood still and the moon halted.
The next verse implies the sun stopped its course for a whole day.
This then allowed Joshua and the people to defeat a mighty army of enemies, after which he is said to have concluded “neither before, nor since, has there ever been such a day, when the Eternal acted on words spoken by a man”.
The Cambridge study has a different take. Its authors understand verse 12 as meaning the sun and the moon simply stopped shining.
Combining Joshua with an ancient Egyptian text, they concluded the Hebrew Bible records a solar eclipse, making it the oldest eclipse ever reported.
The scholars at Cambridge do not try to prove the veracity of the biblical narrative.
But inta-biblical material might help us to understand why God changed the course of nature.
In Exodus 14, God splits the waters of the Sea of Reeds to help the people escape the Egyptian army. Again, facing a mighty enemy, God bends the law of nature.
In both cases, Israel’s defeat would have meant the end of God’s people, and in both cases the biblical author wanted to stress that human history was part of a larger design, even though it meant bending the natural course of things.
Biblical “truth” is not scientific truth, and trying to prove biblical stories leads to disappointment. Its truth is spiritual, emotional and inspiring.
- Rabbi René Pfertzel serves Kingston Liberal Synagogue