Home > Antiochus IV, Book of Daniel, Book of Joshua > Did the sun stand still?

Did the sun stand still?

November 9, 2014

Martin Luther reportedly denounced Copernicus and declared, “I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth” (Luther, Table Talk, pp. 358-59)

Gleason Archer wrote:

It has been objected that if in fact the earth was stopped for a period of twenty-four hours, inconceivable catastrophe would have befallen the entire planet and everything on its surface. While those who believe in the omnipotence of God would hardly concede that Yahweh could not have prevented such catastrophe and held in abeyance the physical laws that might be brought to pass, it does not seem to be absolutely necessary (on the basis of the Hebrew text itself) to hold that the planet was suddenly halted in its rotation. Verse 13 states that the sun “did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (NASB). The words “did not hasten” seem to point to a retardation of the movement so that the rotation required forty-eight hours rather than the usual twenty-four.

(Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982, p. 161).

In HARD SAYINGS of the BIBLE, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch discuss the account of the sun standing still in the sky in the time of Joshua.


They wrote:

The Sun Stood Still?

Joshua 10:12–14
Among the many miracles recorded in the Bible, this one is perhaps the most notable. Did the Lord actually halt the earth’s rotation for a period of approximately twenty-four hours so that the sun stood still in the sky and the moon failed to come up at its appointed time? And if God did halt the earth’s normal rotation for a full day, would this not have led to an inconceivable catastrophe for the entire planet and everything that is held on its surface by the force of gravity? The implications of some of these questions are, indeed, cosmic. Or is there some other meaning to the natural force of the words used in this account? For example, can the words in verse 13 (literally rendered, “The sun did not hasten to go down for about a whole day”) point to a retardation of the earth’s movement, so that it took forty-eight hours rather than twenty-four hours for the earth to make its circuit around the sun?

The earth does not make a “circuit around the sun” in 24 hours, but completes one rotation about its axis in that period. Its circuit around the sun takes one year.

Or could the Hebrew word dōm, “stand still” (much like our onomatopoeic word “be dumb”) signify that the sun was to remain hidden—hence “silent”—during the violent thunderstorm that accompanied the troops as they fled before the Israelites down the Valley of Aijalon? These are some of the reasons this passage is listed among the hard sayings.

Of course, the God who made the universe can momentarily stop it without the catastrophes that most of us would envisage according to the laws known to us at this time. Surely he is capable of holding in abeyance those physical laws that might have countermanded his actions with regard to the sun and the moon. But the question is, Would he have done so? This is like saying that God is omnipotent, yet God will not do contradictory things like making ropes with only one end or squares in the form of circles; and he will never sin. There are some things that he will not do because they are contradictory to his very nature. The question then is, Would stopping the planet be such a contradiction? Most would say that it is.

It would directly violate God’s promise after the flood, of the continuity of day and night. The scripture says that as long as the earth exists, “day and night shall not cease.” [Genesis 8:22]

They continue, discussing allegations that a day had gone “missing:”

Alleged stories about a long day in Egyptian, Chinese and Hindu sources are difficult to validate. Similarly, the reports that some astronomers, and more recently some space scientists, have uncovered evidence for a missing day are difficult to vouch for. The claim by Edward Charles Pickering of the Harvard Observatory and Professor Totten of Yale that they had discovered a day missing from the annals of the heavens has never been substantiated, since no records exist to support it. It has been said in defense of this omission that the university officials preferred not to keep records of that sort in their archives. But that has not been demonstrated either. Some other explanation is needed. What happened on that day when Joshua was pursuing the Amorites after a long night’s forced march from Gilgal, a city near Jericho? That day the army covered more than thirty miles over some pretty rough terrain. The enemy fled westward to Beth Horon and then turned south into the Valley of Aijalon (“Deerfield”). At that point, the men, having made an all-night uphill climb from Gilgal, were exhausted. The heat of the July day was sapping what little energy they had left. But to their great relief, God sent a hailstorm that kept pace with the forward ranks of the fleeing Amorites. More were dying that day from the Lord’s hailstones than from the Israelites’ arrows and spears. The Lord had heard the prayer of his leader Joshua and answered in a most dramatic way.

Joshua 10:14 refers to the sun as “the Lord,” probably alluding to Apollo. Some hellenized Jews identified Yahweh with Apollo, and the sun.

Given the presence of a hailstorm (Josh 10:11), it is difficult to see how the sun could have been seen as stopped in the sky. There was light under the cloud cover, of course, but there would have been no actual view of the sun during a hailstorm so violent that it was killing the Amorites by the scores. We can conclude that dō ’m in verse 13 should be translated “was dumb” or “silent.” The sun did not “stop” in the middle of the sky, but its burning heat was “silenced.” The presence of the hailstorm lends more than a little credence to this view. In a sense, then, this is not “Joshua’s long day” but rather “Joshua’s long night,” for the coolness brought by the storm relieved the men and permitted them to go on fighting and marching for a total of more than eighteen hours. This seems to be the preferable interpretation. Some have suggested that there was a prolongation of the day merely in the sense that the men did in one day what should have taken them two. But this suggestion fails to account for some of the special vocabulary used in this text.

Others have argued that God produced an optical prolongation of the sunshine, continuing its effect far beyond the normal time of sunset. Perhaps there was an unusual refraction of the sun’s rays, or perhaps a comet or meteorite appeared in the heavens just about this time. Both of these ideas, however, do not account for enough time, for usually these types of astronomical events are of short duration. The best solution is this. Joshua prayed early in the morning, while the moon was in the western sky and the sun was in the east, that God would intervene on their behalf. God answered Joshua and sent a hailstorm. This had the effect of prolonging the darkness and shielding the men from the searing rays of the summer sun. The sun, therefore, was “silenced” in the middle of the sky, and the moon “did not hasten” to come. What a day to remember, for on it God went out and personally fought for Israel—and more died from the hailstones than from the weapons of the army of Israel!

I suggest that the account in Joshua 10 of the sun standing still is a cosmological corruption, introduced in the time of the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus IV, as foretold in the prophecy of Daniel 8. Antiochus is represented in Daniel’s prophecy by a little horn in the head of a goat, which grows tall, as high as the stars, and casts stars and the host of heaven, and heaven itself, God’s sanctuary, to the earth, along with the truth, and tramples them. Of course this is very figurative and requires interpretation. Study of the history of the reign of Antiochus IV shows he promoted hellenistic religion, especially the worship of Zeus, and also Apollo. Belief in Zeus, who was identified with the rigid heaven, was threatened by claims that the diurnal rotation was due to the earth’s rotation, rather than heaven, because if rotation was of the earth, there would be no need for a rigid heaven to hold up the stars and carry them around the earth. Antiochus therefore implemented policies intended to stamp out the knowledge of the earth’s rotation. Revision of the cosmology of the Jewish scriptures, and the addition of stories such as Joshua commanding the sun to stand still, was one of the effects of his those policies, which Daniel said “cast the truth to the ground.” [Dan. 8:12]

The story of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still implies that the sun moves across the sky, instead of its apparent motion being due to the earth’s rotation. It also implies the sun has ears, and could hear the words of Joshua! This is consistent with hellenistic belief, which identified the sun with Apollo, the god of prophecy.

Obviously, if the earth’s rotation were to be arrested, the momentum of the oceans and seas would cause their waters to flood over the western coastlines. But there is no evidence that such things occurred. If the earth’s rotation was halted in Joshua’s time, why would such an event not be mentioned in, say, the faith chapter, Hebrews 11? There is no mention of Joshua; either the writer of Hebrews did not know about this tale, or perhaps he regarded it as spurious, and merely a Jewish fable. Reference to it is absent in the Psalms. It is also contradicts the promises of the continuity of day and night in Jeremiah 33:19-21, and 33:25-26.

In Daniel’s prophecy, the little horn takes away the “tamiyd” or “continual,” which I suggest, signifies the knowledge of the earth’s diurnal rotation. This word is also translated “evening morning.” This points us to Genesis 1, which was a primary target for the cosmological revisions implemented by Antiochus IV and his agents. They introduced statements that God gave names or labels to Day, Night, Heaven, Earth, and Sea, all of which were regarded as deities by the Greeks and hellenistic Jews. At “evening” and “morning,” the movement of the earth relative to heaven is most evident, which supports my interpretation of “tamiyd” as a term signifying the knowledge of the earth’s rotation, which is “continual” or “constant.”