Joshua's "Long Day" and Mesopotamian Celestial Omen Texts

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Excerpt A story has been circulating on the Internet that calculations done on NASA computers produced evidence for Joshua's long day. This is not a new story. The account has no basis in fact... Continue reading

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This article was first published in the December 2003 ABR E-Newsletter.

A story has been circulating on the Internet that calculations done on NASA computers produced evidence for Joshua's long day. This is not a new story. We published evidence in Bible and Spade (Spring-Summer 1975: 82-86) showing that the account has no basis in fact. It is worth repeating the information we published in 1975, plus adding some new research that sheds light on the perplexing passage in Joshua 10:12-15.

Harold Hill and NASA

The tale concerning NASA computers and Joshua's long day originated with Harold Hill, an industrialist from Baltimore who gave lectures on science and the Bible. It was first published in October 1969 in Evening World, a newspaper in Spencer IN. From there it was picked up by numerous Christian publications. In 1974 Hill published the account in his book Living Like a King's Kid. The book is still being sold today, thus keeping the legend alive.

The incident, as recounted in Hill's book, goes like this (pp. 66-69):

The space scientists were checking the position of the sun, moon, and planets out in space, calculating where they would be 100 and 1,000 years from now. In addition, they were looking into the trajectories of known asteroids and meteors so we wouldn't send astronauts and satellites up only to have them bump into something. Satellite orbits have to be laid out in terms of where the heavenly bodies will be so that the whole thing won't become a head-on traffic collision.

Well, as they ran the computer measurement back and forth over the centuries, it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red flag, which meant that there was something wrong either with the information fed into the computer or with the results as compared to the standards. They called in the service department to check it out.

"Nothing's wrong with the computer," the technicians said. "It's operating perfectly. What makes you think something's wrong?"

"Well, the computer shows there's a day missing somewhere in elapsed time," the operators said. They rechecked their data and scratched their Educated Idiot Boxes. There was no answer, no logical explanation. They were at a baffled standstill.

Then one religious fellow on the team said, "You know, one time when I was in Sunday school, they talked about the day the sun stood still." He about got laughed out of the room, because nobody believed him, but they didn't have anything else to try, so they invited him to show them what he was talking about. He got a Bible and turned to the Book of Joshua where Joshua was called to battle against all the Kings of the Amorites, kind of a formidable array of enemies. In the account, they found a pretty ridiculous statement for anyone who has an ounce of common sense. They found the Lord saying to Joshua, "Fear them not, for I have delivered them into thine hand. There shall not a man of them stand before thee." The Bible went on to say that the Lord slew Joshua's enemies with a great slaughter, and they began to flee before Israel. And the Lord cast down great stones from heaven, and more of the enemy died from the hailstones than were slain by Joshua's troops. But there were some of the enemy left, and Joshua prayed for the sun and moon to stand still until the Israelites had finished avenging themselves upon their enemies.

"And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."

"There," the Christian space man said. "There's your missing day. Go ahead and check it out."

Well, they checked the computers, went all the way back to the time when Joshua defeated the kings, and found the explanation was close, but not close enough. The elapsed time in Joshua's day was only 23 hours and 20 minutes, not a whole day. There was still a discrepancy of 40 minutes to be accounted for.

Consulting the Bible record again, they found that it did not say that the sun had stood still for a whole day, but for "about (approximately) a whole day."

So they were still in trouble. Forty minutes become extremely significant when they are multiplied many times over in orbits. Then the religious fellow remembered somewhere else in the Bible where it said the sun went backward. Naturally, the other space men told him he was out of his mind, but once again, they had no real choice in the matter, so they went back to the Bible and read in 2 Kings, the 20th chapter, how Hezekiah on his deathbed was visited by the prophet Isaiah, who told him that he was not going to die, but that God would heal him so he would be well enough to go to the temple in three days. Furthermore, God promised to give him 15 more years of life on earth. That was such good news that Hezekiah couldn't believe it! He asked for a sign as proof that God's word was true.

"Do you want the sun to go ahead ten degrees?" Isaiah asked him.

"No," Hezekiah said. "It's too easy for the sun to, go ahead ten degrees. It does that all the time. It goes ahead every day. But how about letting the shadow return backward ten degrees? That'll be a new thing, and then I can believe."

And so Isaiah spoke to the Lord, and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees backward. Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes!

Twenty-three hours and 20 minutes accounted for in Joshua's day, plus 40 minutes accounted for in Hezekiah's day--there was the whole 24 hours, the missing day that the space scientists had to make allowance for in the logbook.


NASA's Response

It is an intriguing tale, but is it true? We contacted NASA to see if they could substantiate the account. In May 1970 we received the following form letter from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt MD 20771:

We know nothing of Mr. Harold Hill and in no way can corroborate the "lost day" reference in the article.

The effects of epoch events such as leap year, Babylonian calendar sequential perturbations, etc., are considered in the development of long-term-running computer programs. We are limited somewhat in that many of our calculations terminate with Babylonian calendar events (4,000 years ago), but this has never given programmers any unexpected difficulties.

Although we make use of planetary positions as necessary in the determination of spacecraft orbits on our computers, I have not found that any "astronauts and space scientists at Greenbelt" were involved in the "lost day" story attributed to Mr. Hill.

Thank you for your interest.

                                        Sincerely,
                                        (signed)
                                        Edward Mason, Chief
                                        Office of Public Affairs

"I Lost the Evidence"

In addition, we wrote to Mr. Hill in May 1970. He replied with a form letter that said:

Since this incident took place about two years ago I have misplaced the source information and so am unable to give you names and places but will send it to you when I locate it. In the meantime I can only tell you that had I not considered the source to be completely reliable I would not have made use of it in the first place.

Of course, Mr. Hill never sent the "source information." He died in 1987. In his book, Hill admitted that he had no documentation for the story: "And my inability to furnish documentation of the 'Missing Day' incident in no way detracts from its authenticity" (71). But without documentation how can the incident have authenticity? Apparently no one else in the world but Harold Hill knows about the events described in his account!

For 22 years Hill was president of the Curtis Engine and Equipment Company in Baltimore. The company has the following disclaimer posted on its website:

Curtis Engine & Equipment, Inc., does not substantiate or continue Harold's personal research. Unfortunately, we have no information concerning the "Missing Day" nor do we have any connections at NASA who would be able to corroborate Harold's claims.

Joshua, Omens and the Amorites

A much more plausible explanation for the so-called "missing day" has been offered by John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. Traditionally, Joshua's request for the sun to stand still (Jos 10:12) has been understood as a request to God for additional daylight so that Israel would have more time to annihilate the Amorites. Walton points out, however, that at the time the request was made the sun was over Gibeon and the moon was over Aijalon to the west (Jos 10:12). With the moon in the west, the sun must have been in the east, making it morning. Since it was morning, there would have been no need for extended daylight (1994: 182).

To understand what Joshua was asking for (actually commanding, cf. Jos 10:12), Walton appeals to the celestial omen texts from Mesopotamia. The first day of the full moon, which took place in the middle of the month, was defined as occurring when the sun and moon were both fully visible for a few minutes on opposite horizons in the morning. If the first day of the new moon fell on the 14th day of the month, this was considered a good omen. Conversely, if the first day of the new moon fell on either the 13th or 15th day of the month, that was considered a bad omen.

The terminology of Joshua 10:12-13, of the sun and moon "standing" or "waiting," is the same as used in Mesopotamian celestial omen texts. This, plus the fact that Joshua focuses on both the sun and moon, prompts Walton to interpret the passage in light of the omen texts. Great significance was attached to such omens in the ancient Near East and undoubtedly the Amorites would have wanted to fight the Israelites on the first day of the new moon on the 14th day of the month.

Walton suggests that the Israelites confronted the Amorites on the 15th day of the month. If the sun and moon were both visible on the morning horizons on the 14th day of the month (a good omen) then on the 15th day the sun would be above the horizon when the moon was just on the horizon. Joshua was, in effect, requesting a bad omen for the Amorites--not because Joshua believed in omens, but for the psychological affect it would have on the Amorites. He commanded the sun to "stand" or "wait," so that it would be visible on the horizon at the same time the moon reached the horizon, thus resulting in a bad omen in the eyes of the Amorites.

The statement at the end of verse 13 is what has prompted the interpretation of an extended day: The NIV, for example, translates the passage: "The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day." Walton, however, translates the passage as, "The sun stood in the midst of the sky and did not hurry to go as on a day of full length" (1994:187). He explains that "the midst of the sky" does not necessarily mean that the sun was high in the sky at midday. The sky was viewed as having various segments, one major segment being below the horizon, others being above the horizon, and so on. The Hebrew wording can mean that the sun was positioned in the eastern half of the sky. When the full moon comes on the 14th, and the month has the proper number of days, then each of the days of the month is a "full-length" day, according to ancient Near Eastern thought. That constitutes a good omen. This was not the case with the events of Joshua 10; the sun and moon did not act as they would on a "full-length" day.

Walton has provided a good example of how we can combine knowledge of ancient near eastern terminology, ancient near eastern beliefs and the Hebrew language, to reach a clearer understanding of a difficult Biblical passage.

Recommended Resources for Further Study

     
The NIV Archaeological
Study Bible
The Bible and Spade
CD-ROM


References

Hill, Harold  1974   How to Live Like a King's Kid. Plainfield NJ: Logos.

Walton, John H. 1994   Joshua 10:12-15 and Mesopotamian Celestial Omen Texts. Pp.181-90 in Faith, Tradition, and History: Old Testament Historiography in Its Near Eastern Context, eds. Alan R. Millard, James K. Hoffmeier and David W. Baker. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.

Wood Bryant G. 2004 Joshua's "Long Day" and Mesopotamian Celestial Omen Texts. Bible and Spade 17/1: 28-31.

 

Comments Comment RSS

7/7/2008 6:58 AM #

7-6-08
I had hoped Harold Hill was correct in his position.
What to comment?  Too bad his story is a fabrication.
Mr. Hill admits he doesn't have any documentation.

Gary Reed - 7/7/2008 6:58:04 AM

7/29/2008 11:48 AM #

    As a pastor, I get this story passed on to me probably around once a year. It seems to have an enduring quality with Christians, unfortunately. However, as I point out, NASA would have had to establish an initial starting position for the heavenly bodies prior to Joshua's 'long day' from which to calculate in order to find a supposed discrepancy between then and now. It is sort of like going out to look at the position of one's tire on your car today and then trying to determine how many revolutions it has made in its life on the car and whether it missed a portion of a revolution. It cannot be done without knowing precisely when it was installed and how far exactly it has traveled over its life. For the planets, etc., only God has that precise information.
    Many Believers today seem to have generally lost the ability to think critically and with precision.

Steve Mitchell - 7/29/2008 11:48:44 AM

8/23/2008 7:15 PM #

Mr. Hill's publication of the "missing day" story may or may not have prompted  a NASA scientist to resort back to the Bible after what was thought to be a computer glich turned out to be fully accounted for in two stories from the Bible.  The problem is that Mr. Hill never produced a source from NASA confirming this and that everyone involved never followed up on Mr. Hill's personal research of the "missing day."  I haven't read Mr. Hill's book.  In fact, until reading this article, I had never heard that NASA may have come across the "missing day" in their research of heavenly body orbits.  My belief in the"missing day" is based upon  a theory that the Earth's rotation was altered by God granting Joshua's and and Isaiah's requests.

Ike - 8/23/2008 7:15:47 PM

3/22/2009 9:24 PM #

it would be interesting if this was true, but no different from any other piece of historical artifacts, places, persons or peoples which find  almost singular reference in the bible, which then is used as the source of a archeological quest  of sorts, establishing and reastablishing accuracy in the book.  For this reason, every person who states such 'events' should be careful to have valid referenced materials/sources, as otherwise would become self defeating

Christ himself used all the prophets from Moses to expalin who he was and his mission, Christians should be able to do the same.... The key to the Christian faith is found in the prophets... eg, the prophets speak about real places in time... past and especially the future...

Smuel - 3/22/2009 9:24:12 PM

5/17/2009 8:54 AM #

Perhaps an alternate explanation for Joshua's long day and Hezekiah's backward clock might be that God simply changed the perception of time for those involved in the story.  If God is eternal, he precedes the beginning of time and has already seen the end of time. Our concept of linear time to which we are bound is not really a big factor for an eternal being. I think Joshua and Hezekiah were given a glimpse of God's perspective. They temporarily stepped into a supernatural experience, where time became warped, or perhaps irrelevant.  You would think that if the earth stopped spinning on it's axis, that every culture and civilization would have recorded this incredible occurrence, but only the Bible appears to mention it. This makes me lean toward the idea that it was an event that was observed only by the participants. ( consider the transfiguration on the mount of Olives, and Jesus is seen talking with Moses & Elijah...perhaps another experience where time for those involved became irrelevant, and eternity became vividly apparent. )

Moses - 5/17/2009 8:54:30 AM

9/30/2009 7:30 AM #

"With the moon in the west, the sun must have been in the east, making it morning. Since it was morning, there would have been no need for extended daylight (1994: 182)."

...just because the moon was in the west doesn't mean the sun was necessarily in the east.  That'd be dependent on the time of month.

KC - 9/30/2009 7:30:47 AM

2/20/2010 12:35 AM #

After reading the story that Harold Hill accounted for, my thing is why did it take so long for someone to say something about. To my understand ,not until it got comments from all over the world and other news paper and magazine, thats when NASA and some "securlar" person spoke up.
taking in account that it was Christian people that drew to his comments, know one never mention that Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is exspanding. The Bible teaches that in Isaiah 45:12 "... I- my hands- stretched out the heavens..", Also Jer. 10:12.." He has established the world by his wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens at his discretion".
Given those account from the Bible and what Edwin Hubble discovered , that tells me that the universe use to be "smaller and it is still expanding. Thats were you get that "red shift" that the astronomers are talking about. The wavelength of light is stretched, so the light is seen as shifted toward the red part of the spectrum.
You have secular humanist that will tell you anything to deny that their is a God. Adolf Hitler is given credit for saying ( but we know his master of propaganda did say it) "If you tell a lie long and loud enough, people will eventually start to believe it". So you make up your mind who is telling the truth.

Minister Gregory King - 2/20/2010 12:35:21 AM

6/18/2010 10:01 PM #

So Harry Hill had no documentary evidence of the " Lost Day" event.
So what!?? Some old History Teacher at my high school in Broken Hill NSW (Australia)told me that Christopher Columbus discovered America. He said this was corroborated in history books. I don't hear anyone arguing about the truthfullness of that event even though there are no actual photographs or movies of him doing so. Nothing other than old documents (scrolls?) and sketches.

Yet some of us seem to have a devil of a time believing the information written in the best-selling book in the entire world, the Holy Bible. Someone wrote somewhere " The fabric of a person's faith in their religion is like a prize-winning rose. Enjoy its perfection and colours and perfume. Pick it to pieces while looking for faults and all you will have is an ugly mess."

God must be chuckling to see the effect of Harold Hill's ' Lost Day ' event on us.

Keep the faith,
Ian Hughes
Australia


Ian Hughes - 6/18/2010 10:01:44 PM

7/20/2010 5:59 AM #

Didn't Chinese historians record the same "long day"?  Also, I read somewhere that the sundial moving backwards 10 degrees for King Hezekiah was due to the fact that it was near the summer solstice and the sun was actually in the northern half of the sky for a portion of the day.  If so, that was no miracle, just a fact.

John S - 7/20/2010 5:59:52 AM

7/25/2012 11:14 PM #

Will you able to share the NASA and the Harold Hill letters to all of us? (I mean scanning the documents, for example) in order to be more consistent.

Thanks if you do so.

Manuel.

Manuel - 7/25/2012 11:14:23 PM

9/12/2012 12:29 PM #

Can you please scan your letter to Hill, and his response, and put them on-line?  The Hill story is an urban legend for sure, but it would still be nice to see copies of your actual sources.  Thanks.

Jonathan Henry - 9/12/2012 12:29:06 PM

9/20/2012 3:39 PM #

Dear Jonathan,

Greetings. We are scanning the archives for this one. It was originally reported in the Spring-Summer 1975 issue of Bible and Spade, and thus, I am attempting to see if we still possess the original. If so, I will surely post it here on this page.

Thanks for your interest in the ABR ministry.

Blessings,

Henry

ABR - 9/20/2012 3:39:33 PM

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