Solar Eclipse 2017 Captured from Union, Missouri.
(photo credit: KOBI SWISSA / SWISSA CREATIVE)
A famous passage recorded in the Book of Joshua, thought by believers to describe a miracle when “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped until the nation took vengeance on its enemies” (Joshua 10:13), may have been the earliest recorded solar eclipse.
According to a study published earlier this month in Astronomy and Geophysics entitled “Solar eclipse of 1207 BCE helps to date pharaohs,” a reinterpretation of the passage suggests that the event was not a miracle, but rather an annular eclipse, a type of solar eclipse where the sun appears larger than the moon, forming an annulus – a very bright ring – around the dark disk of the moon.
Moreover, the study’s authors, Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington, postulate that the eclipse in question may be used to precisely date the reign of Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great.
“Calculations show that this event could be the annular solar eclipse of October 30, 1207 BCE,” the researchers wrote.
“If accepted, this appears to be the oldest solar eclipse recorded. When combined with Egyptian records, this eclipse enables us to hone the most accurate dates available for the reign of the famous Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses the Great to between 1276– 1210 BCE.”
The dates agreed by mainstream Egyptologists for the reign of Ramesses II are 1279– 1213 BCE, with his son Merneptah reigning from 1213– 1203 BCE.
After Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, he prayed: “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 its enemies.” (Joshua 10:12,13) If these words describe an actual observation, the researchers postulate that “a major astronomical event was being reported.”
“In other words, the text is referring to a solar eclipse, when the sun stops shining,” they said. “As a solar eclipse can only occur when the moon is directly between the earth and the sun, the moon itself is not visible, and so it is not reflecting sunlight to the earth – like the sun, it has ‘stopped shining’ as well.”
If the solar eclipse interpretation of this passage is correct, then the researchers contend that the text describes it as having been seen by the Israelites in Gibeon, a Canaanite city identified with the modern day Palestinian village of Al Jib, located ten kilometers northwest of Jerusalem.
“From our calculations, we find that the only annular eclipse visible from Gibeon between 1500 and 1050 BCE (using the same generous limits to the possible dates of entry of Joshua into Canaan) was on October 30,1207 BCE, in the afternoon,” they concluded.
“This eclipse passed directly over the land of Canaan.”
The researchers wrote that independent Egyptian evidence suggesting that the Israelites were in Canaan comes from the Merneptah Stele, a large inscribed granite block housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
“The inscription on the Stele says it was carved in the fifth year of the reign of Merneptah, and mentions a campaign in Canaan in which he defeated people of Israel. So the Israelites must have been in Canaan by Merneptah’s fifth year,” Humphreys and Waddington wrote.
“These dates are subject to some uncertainty, with the latest possible dates for Ramesses II being 1270–1204 BCE, and for Merneptah 1204–1194 BCE.
The fifth year of Merneptah was therefore probably circa 1209/08 BCE, with the latest possible date being 1200/1199 BCE,” they concluded. Therefore the eclipse in question is shown to have occurred during his reign.