Many Christians suppose the story of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still, found in Joshua 10:12-14, means the earth's rotation stopped for a day, while the Israelite warriors finished the slaughter of their enemies, after which the earth resumed its regular rotation. The story is in the Bible, and what is in the Bible must be true, right? To question it would deny the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as taught by many Christian leaders. So they assume miracles must have occurred on that day.
For the earth to suddenly stop rotating would certainly involve a major miracle. It violates the principle of conservation of angular momentum of rotating bodies, a fundamental law. The kinetic energy of a rotating body like the earth cannot just disappear; it must continue to exist; the energy needed somewhere to go. Clearly a miracle is needed, if the earth's rotation stopped, and then began again.
The earth's diameter is several kilometers greater at the equator, than at the poles, because of the effects of rotation. What would maintain the equatorial bulge, if rotation stopped?
The moon, also, cannot simply stop in its orbit; it would fall towards the earth. So a miracle was involved, to keep the moon up when it stopped, and for it to resume its orbital motion.
The ocean waters have momentum, and if the earth's crust beneath them suddenly stopped, the waters of the oceans would overflow the eastern coasts of the continents, in mighty tidal waves traveling hundreds of km per hour. This would be a catastrophe probably greater in scale than even the world wide flood of Noah's time! Similar flooding on the western coasts would likely occur when rotation resumed. But geologic evidence for such events has not been found.
The atmosphere has momentum, and if the earth's crust suddenly stopped, winds of hundreds of km per hour would cause devastation around the earth, but such drastic events do not appear to have happened, so miracles must be invoked by those who believe the story of Joshua's long day, to prevent all the widespread destruction.
For the ocean waters to remain in the ocean basins would requite the miraculous suspension of the law of inertia that applies to every particle in the oceans. Similarly, if the earth's atmosphere did not keep revolving eastward when the earth stopped, countless miracles are needed; one for every single molecule of air!
There are numerous aspects of the story what seem very strange. The Israelite army had marched all the previous night; they took the Amorite armies by surprise, and routed them, and were in persuit. How come the warriors were not exhausted? Why would they have wanted the length of the day to be extended?
If Joshua was led to order the earth to stop its rotation by the Spirit of God, would he command the sun and the moon to stand still, or earth? (It is the earth that rotates, after all.) And what point would there be to making the moon stand still? How could that help the Israelites to punish the Amorites?
Another curious thing about the passage is that there is no mention of Joshua taking counsel of God, before the event. Moses was rebuked for smiting the rock, to bring forth water for the Israelites, rather than speaking to it; how come Joshua ordered the sun and moon to stand still, without any mention of God telling him to do so? The passage in Joshua is anomalous in this respect. It does not conform to the pattern God used, where other miracles are mentioned in the Bible.
The reference to the book of Jasher suggests there has been an editorial insertion. "Is not this written in the book of Jasher?" [Joshua 10:13]. Apparently even the scribe who inserted the story was incredulous. Perhaps this was a book about Israel's heroes, and historical events, written in hellenistic times. If Jasher was scripture, how come God did not preserve the book down to our time?
If the earth's rotation was halted in Joshua's time, why would it not be mentioned in, say, the faith chapter, Hebrews 11? Either the writer of Hebrews did not know about it, or perhaps he considered the story to be untrue.
There is no mention of this tale in the Psalms, either. Surely in Psalm 136, where some of the mighty works of God are listed, the stopping of the sun (or the earth's rotation) by Joshua would be mentioned, if it were true. But it is not there. The creation of the earth's crust on the second day is mentioned, the making of the great lights on the fourth day is mentioned, the Exodus is mentioned, the dividing of the Red Sea is mentioned, the victories of the Israelites are mentioned, but not the story of Joshua commanding the sun and moon to stand still!
There is a possible reference to the Joshua story of the sun standing still in Habakkuk 3:11.
In Genesis 8:22 God promised that "while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." This is a promise of the future continuity of day and night, as well as of the seasons. The assumption that the earth's rotation stopped in Joshua's time implies an interruption of the continuity of the earth's rotation, which would contradict the above scripture in Genesis as well as the principle of conservation of angular momentum of the earth.
The promise of God recorded in Genesis 8:22 is that the continuity of day and night, and of the seasons, would not be interrupted. It precludes even a "pause"; every day ceases when night occurs, and night regularly gives way to day. So it is the continuity of the regular sequence of day and night that forms the essence of the promise God gave in Genesis 8:22. This promise would be violated if the earth's rotation stopped when Joshua ordered the sun and moon to stand still.
The prophet Jeremiah refers to God's promise about the continuity of day and night, mentioned in Genesis 8:22, in several passages.
Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name:
If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.
Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.
Jeremiah 33:19-21 speaks of the covenant of the continuity of day and night as unbreakable:
And the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, saying,
Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season;
Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne;
The reference here to day and night occurring "in their season" shows that continuity of day and night is considered to be the essence of God's covenant referred to here. Jeremiah 33:25-26:
Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant be not with day
and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and
Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them.
These prophetic scriptures all refer to God's covenant concerning the continuity of day and night as not having been broken. The story about Joshua telling the sun to stand still may be a late invention, inserted during the hellenistic period, perhaps in order to promote the geocentric cosmology of the Greeks.
Because the story of Joshua telling the sun to stand still is in the Bible, does that mean it is God's word? Scripture is given by the inspiraton of God as Paul writes in 2nd Timothy 3:16. Paul was writing about the Old Testament here. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter refers to Paul's writings as scripture too. John wrote in 1 John 2:21, "no lie is of the truth."
The story about Joshua commanding the sun to stand still may be a "tall tale" which has been inserted in our present versions of the Old Testament. If so, it is not of the truth, but I don't believe that it makes God a liar. Centuries ago, some priests or scribes were unfaithful with the word of God, and inserted a "gloss" which has remained in subsequent translations. To claim that if this has occurred, it would make God a liar, makes no sense. It is itself a lie! But perhaps man's doctrines about biblical inerrancy are flawed. Scripture itself gives us plenty of reasons to reject this tale.
The influence of the cosmological views of the Greeks was foretold in a prophecy of Daniel, centuries before the hellenistic age. Daniel 8:9-14 describes in symbol the activities of a Seleucid king, Antiochus IV. In the vision he is represented as a little horn on a he-goat, which grows up to the height of the stars, and the host of heaven, and casts them to the ground, and tramples them.
The prophecy says the little horn takes away the "Constant" and magnifies himself against the "Prince of the host," which clearly refers to God. The "constant" could be a reference to the continuity of the earth's rotation.
What is more "constant" and "regular" or "continual" than the earth's rotation? The saying "as sure as the rising of the sun tomorrow" is a proverb meaning something reliable and sure.
This vision is not merely about political or military exploits of an ancient ruler, as many interpreters have assumed. In the vision, nations are represented by animals such as a ram and a goat, so it would be very inconsistent if the nation of the Jews were represented by stars. Many have used this rather silly idea and have arrived at an incorrect interpretation of Daniel's vision.
A true interpretation must be a cosmological one. The stars and the host of heaven being cast to the earth pictures the earth's crust, formed on the second day of creation, as Moses wrote in Genesis 1, being identified with the rigid sky of the Greeks by changes to inserted in the Creation account in the scriptures. The "Constant" being taken away refers to the knowledge of the earth's diurnal rotation being stamped out.
The story of Joshua telling the sun and moon to stand still was inserted in the scriptures, probably to support and confirm the geocentric ideas of the hellenistic Greeks.
Geocentrism was central to the pagan worship of Zeus, which was promoted by Antiochus IV. His efforts to promote the Greek culture and Greek religious beliefs would be severely undermined if anyone expressed doubts about the rigid sky.
The verses in Joshua 10:12-14 which mention the sun, when considered along with certain other Old Testament scriptures that allude to or mention the sun, present a pattern. Several references to the sun in the Old Testament suggest textual tampering occurred in hellenistic times. Consider the mention of the sun in Psalm 19:4-5; this has been regarded as supporting the geocentric view of the sun going around the earth. As well, in Jeremiah 7:25, the phrase "rising up early and sending them", referring to God sending his prophets to warn Israel, seems to be absent in some manuscripts of the LXX. There are several places where this or a similar phrase is found in the KJV, but is missing in the equivalent verses in the LXX. The phrase is also missing in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls containing an ancient version of Jeremiah.
Now, what could be the significance of this? Does God rise up early? Does he need to go to bed? No, scripture says God does not sleep; however the sun rises up early each morning. In hellenistic times, Apollo was identified with the sun, and Apollo was viewed as the god of prophecy. So the Jewish scribe who presumably inserted the phrase in the Hebrew text of Jeremiah, after the LXX was made, may have associated God with the sun. This was characteristic of the hellenistic period.
These are possible examples where tampering with the original text is indicated, because of discrepancies between the LXX and the Hebrew versions. In the LXX version of Psalm 19:4-5, [Psalm 18 in the LXX] it reads as if God dwells in the sun! "In the sun he has set his tabernacle..."
The problem verses of Joshua 10:12-14 and these other examples where there is some textual evidence for interference, all refer to the sun.
The Abingdon Bible Commentary (1929 edition) has this note, p. 351:
Vv. 12-14 contain the famous reference to the sun standing still, which, like so many other familiar passages, would never have been misunderstood, if its literary form had been recognized. There is here a four-line fragment of a poem. Taken by itself, it is plainly a poetic expression of the idea that the day was long enough for a complete victory. It is quoted from the Book of Jasher; Jasher meaning "upright", and referring to the nation as a whole or to the nation's heroes, or to Jehova himself (cf 2 Sam 1:18). But the writer of the book of Joshua, in his zeal for Jehovah and for Joshua, has taken the poetry as though it were a mechanical description and has made a nature miracle out of a poetic expression vv 12a, 13b). Later readers, ignoring the distinction between prose and poetry, and themselves as interested in signs and wonders as the author of Joshua, have been equally prosaic and mistaken in their reading of the poem. ... V. 15 is more suitable at v. 43, where it also appears. At this place it is premature; the fighting is not over.
The original text here may have been a poem, or a prayer of thanks and praise to God by Joshua for the hailstones that had killed many of the fleeing Amorites. This would be appropriate at the end of the battle. But apparently the text was changed to say the sun and moon stood still.
There may well be more than one way for God to preserve His word, so that we can reveive the intended message error-free. In the transfer of computer data, there are a number techniques for error-correction and detection commonly used.
According to a mathematical theorem by Shannon, if the nature of the "noise" that is expected during the transmission of a message is known, encoding methods, checks, and redundancy can be employed to identify and correct errors, so that the information can be received error free.
Of course God must have known beforehand that the Bible would be handled by men having flawed views of cosmology, and on other subjects as well. Have you ever noticed that important concepts in the Bible are repeated? The 10 Commandments appear in two different chapters, for example. This suggests an error correction technique known as redundancy.
Repetition, or comparing one account against another, is one of the most obvious ways to ensure proper transmission of information. There are four gospel accounts. Many events in Israel's history are mentioned more than once in the O.T. In the Psalms we find summaries of the events of creation, and O.T. history.
There are many ways in which the gospel message is encoded or pictured in symbol, in the Bible; the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, for example; the passover; the Exodus.
It is remarkable that the New Testament contains very little, or nothing at all, in support of the cosmological ideas that prevailed in the ancient world. We can be thankful for this. For the Old Testament it is a little different, but there is a prophecy that warns us about some of the "noise" that was especially prevalent in the hellenistic era, in the time of Antiochus IV in the 2nd century BC.
In principle, it is possible that God could convey His message to us error-free, even though there may be "noise" introduced during transmission. It is the same when one transfers data over telephone lines, using a modem, or in the transmission of data by radio from satellites or space craft.
We also use filtering in listening. Don't we easily distinguish the music from the noise at a concert, when someone coughs, or if a baby cries? If the band puts on a great performance, is the concert worthless because of the "noise" that may be present?
I think the Joshua story about the sun standing still is simply an example of the "noise" that would be expected because of the centuries during which the O.T. was handled by hellenistic Jews. We need to recognize what "noise" is present, so that we can filter it out. The prophecy of Daniel reveals the nature of the "noise".
We can be grateful that God makes this information available to us, since some of the most thorny problems of scriptural cosmology can be resolved in the light of the truth revealed in Daniel's amazing prophecy. The Bible is far more amazing than most of us have realized; it has sophisticated built-in error detection and correction.
It is characteristic of God's word to be reliable, when referring to the universe, or the depths of the earth. In the promise to Abraham, in Genesis 22:17 the number of stars is equated with the number of grains of sand on the sea shore. On a very clear night, one can see only about 3,000 stars. The number of grains of sand on the sea shore is much greater, as was confirmed after the invention of telescopes. The number is comparable with the number of grains of sand in the earth. So this promise of God, as it relates to cosmology, proves to be a revelation about the nature of the universe, confirmed by science. The Joshua story does not have the characteristics of the promise God gave to Abraham. And, whereas the promise to Abraham is referred to in the New Testament, the Joshua story is not. The promise to Abraham glorifies God; in contrast, the Joshua story has caused many to blaspheme God's holy word, so there is reason for us to suspect it is not genuine scripture. I consider the story to be a gloss introduced in hellenistic times. It does not have the characteristics of scripture, but glorifies an Israelite hero. It is a tale of bloodthirsty Israelites taking vengeance on their neighbors. Joshua commands the sun and moon to stand still, and they obey him! There is nothing about it that honors God, the Creator.
Joshua would not have ordered the sun to stand still if he knew about the promise of God recorded by Moses regarding the continuity of day and night. The story implies the sun goes around the earth, which isn't true, as we know today.
These verses refer to the sun as "the Lord" and personify the sun; why would Joshua address the sun and the moon, instead of God? Does the sun have ears? Can the moon hear? Can they respond to a man's orders? The verses were cited against Galileo, as evidence the sky went around the earth, and against the idea of the earth rotating. The story is used by skeptics to discredit the Bible. It is one of their favorites.
Paul says of the ancient hellenistic Jews: "they turned the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever." [Romans 1:25]
The reality of the flood and the Creation events are confirmed by Jesus; the stories about Elijah are confirmed in the New Testament, but the one about Joshua is not. It is not even confirmed in the Psalms of David. Now, God has given us the Spirit of truth, so we can discern what is of God, and what is not.
The story of the sun standing still in Joshua 10:12-14 is probably a tall tale that was inserted by hellenistic Jews who identified God with the sun. This would be a fulfillment of a prophecy of Daniel. The Jewish leaders in the 2nd century BC were influenced by the Greeks, and adopted Greek customs and beliefs, including sun worship. History, archaeology, and the evidence from the coins confirm it.
The text following is from one of Plato's dialogues, and in it the idea of the universe reversing itself on occasion is discussed. Obviously, it is a tall story. The point of this one, I think, is that it implies a rigid sky. The Joshua story similarly implies the sun goes round the earth, as Martin Luther and others in Galileo's time pointed out. This is one reason why I don't consider it to be genuine.
The Jews were exposed to Greek philosophy and their cosmological theories in the hellenistic period, and many of them adopted the Greek beliefs, and tried to assimilate these ideas with tradition. Some identified Yeweh with Zeus, (associated with the rigid sky) others identified God with Apollo, considered to be the sun.
Apollo was also regarded as the god of prophecy. Jewish coins of the 2nd century BC depict Apollo.
IMO, there is a possibility that the hellenistic Jew who added the verses in Joshua 10:12-14 about the sun standing still, was aware of the following story from Plato, or perhaps another one similar to it. In Homer's poems, there are elaborate stories about the interaction of man and nature; the anger of Poseidon (the sea) towards Odysseus, for example. These stories could have influenced the insertion of the Joshua account of the sun standing still.
(PLATO OF ATHENS (427-348/347 B.C): Collected Works, Oxford text, ed. by J. Burnet, Vol.1.: Politicus pp.269 c4-270 A: 271 c4-272 A; 272 D6-273 E4, 274 B-D)
Dramatis Personae: STRANGER and YOUNG Socrates
Stranger. Here is the story. This Universe is sometimes conducted on its path and guided in its orbit by God, while at other times, when the cycles of its appointed time have arrived at their term, it is released from control by God and proceeds to revolve in the opposite direction by itself (which it can do, because it is a living creature endowed with intelligence by the Being who originally constructed it). The tendency toward this reverse motion is inevitably innate in the Universe ... in virtue of the principle that perpetual self-consistency and self-identity are properties confined to the divine order of existences, to which Matter, by its nature, does not belong. That which we call the Heavens and the Universe has been endowed with many blessings by its Begetter, but these blessings do not include freedom from a material ingredient. For this reason it is impossible for the Universe to be permanently exempt from change, though up to the limits of its capacity it does its utmost to move with a constant and unvarying rhythm in the same locus, and has therefore been allowed (when it changes) to revolve in the reverse direction, as being the slightest possible deviation from its proper motion. Perpetual self-rotation, however, is beyond the capacity of almost every being except that by which all things that move are conducted, and this Being is precluded from moving them sometimes in one direction and sometimes in the opposite. From these various premises it follows that the Earth neither rotates itself perpetually nor is entirely and perpetually rotated by God in two contrary revolutions, and again that there are not two Gods rotating it with contradictory purposes, but that (as has just been stated and is the only remaining alternative) it is some-times conducted by a divine cause outside itself, in which phase it receives an access of vitality and a renewal of immortality from its Creator, while at other times it is released from control and moves by itself. It is released at a juncture which enables it to pass through many hundred thousand reverse revolutions-a feat made possible by the infinitesimal size of the base upon which its vast mass moves with perfect equilibrium...
As I understand it, Joshua 10:12-14 is not part of the original inspired text of scripture but is a later insertion by a copyist who was under the influence of Hellenistic culture. This is confirmed by my interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel that relate to events in the hellenistic period, and also by historical documents that directly relate to the question.
The Letter of Aristeas, written in the second century BC, quotes from a document called the "Memorandum of Demetrius," which claims the Jewish scriptures were "carelessly committed to writing, and not in their original form". It was proposed that this could be rectified by a revision supervised by the Greek authorities, and this revision was the origin of the LXX. It may be a fictional account, but I think the Letter of Aristeas promoted the authority of the new Greek revision over the Hebrew, and as we have often seen happening when modern translations are introduced, the new version was touted as being more accurate than the old one on which it was based, having had the benefit of the attention of "experts." The statements about the older versions of the scriptures being "carelessly committed to writing, and not in their original form" was apparently to justify discrepancies, probably cosmological ones. The document is presented in the following exerpt from the Letter of Aristeas, lines 28-34:
When this business had been dealt with, he ordered Demetrius to submit a memorandum about the copying of the Jewish books. For at the court of these kings, everything was managed by means of decrees, and with maximum security, and nothing was done in an offhand or casual manner. I have therefore recorded the copy of the memorandum and the copies of the letters, and the list of gifts sent and the description of each, because each of them was of extraordinary quality and craftsmanship. This is a copy of the memorandum:
To the Great King, from Demetrius. In accordance with your Majesty's order concerning the library, that books needed to complete the collection should be acquired and added, and that those accidentally damaged should receive suitable attention, I submit the following report, having attended to my responsibility in the matter in no casual manner. Books of the Law of the Jews, with some few others, are wanting. For it happens that these books are written in the Hebrew script and language, but, according to the evidence of the experts, have been somewhat carelessly committed to writing and are not in their original form; for they have never had the benefit of royal attention. It is important that these books, duly corrected, should find a place in your library, because this legislation, in as much as it is divine, is of philosophical importance and of innate integrity. For this reason writers and poets and the great majority of historians have avoided reference to the above mentioned books and to the people who have lived and are living in accordance with them, because, as Hecataeus of Abdera says, the view of life presented in them has a certain sanctity and holiness. If, then, your Majesty approves, a letter shall be written to the high priest in Jerusalem, asking him to send elders of exemplary lives, expert in their country's Law, six from each tribe, so that, having established the agreement of the majority and obtained an accurate translation, we may give the book a distinguished place in our library, in keeping both with the importance of the affair and of your own purpose. May you ever prosper!
This document, even though probably fictional, indicates there were some alterations, or "corrections" of some sort made to the scriptures in the hellenistic period. Daniel's prophecy indicates the cosmological nature of these changes. The same Letter of Aristeas claims the God of the Jews and the O.T is Zeus, which gives a hint as to the flavor of the discrepancies.
There are good reasons why Christians need to investigate what really happened during the "long day" of Joshua, one of them being the need to determine the main biblical events relevant to interpreting geology. If the Joshua story happened, it would quite likely be far more significant geologically than even the flood. But I don't believe it happened. For the development of a sound model of geology, we need to establish some of these basic things in order to make progress.
I think, since the promise of God in Genesis 8:22 is reliable, and confirms the principle of conservation of the earth's angular momentum, there could be no "pause" in the rotation of the earth, as some have interpreted Joshua 10:12-14 to imply. We can dispense with that explanation as untrue. And I also think few informed Christians really believe in it; the story is too fantastic to defend. In this respect, it is like the reference to the "strong sky" in Job 37:18, which I have also identified as possibly an insertion of the hellenistic period. To my knowledge, there has been little serious analysis of the consequences of the earth ceasing its rotation, in Creationist publications.
To make progress in understanding the geology of the earth, we need to have some basic things settled, and the geological effects of any major events involving the earth's rotation in Joshua's time need to be considered. Have Creationists discovered geological effects of a "pause" in the earth's rotation, as mentioned in Joshua? Are they really serious about defending such an event as historical? I suggest they would be wise to consider whether it is merely a gloss, and the story is not genuine. The assertion that it is genuine has little support; the story is ignored by all the biblical writers, except perhaps for Paul in Romans 1:25. Those who cited the story Joshua 10:12-14 in defense of geocentrism in Galileo's time were proven wrong.
The story of the sun and moon standing still upon Joshua's command can be understood as a late interpolation, that was part of an elaborate revision of the cosmology of the Old Testament in hellenistic times. This is revealed by the prophecies of Daniel, especially chapter 8, which has an obvious cosmological significance.
Antiochus IV of Syria, the little horn of Daniel's prophecy, initiated the revision of the cosmology of the Bible in the first half of the 2nd century BC, and this process was probably continued into the first century AD. In this article I have explained the origin and significance of the Joshua story. Properly understanding the nature of this tale removes an obstacle to belief for many people.
Copyright © 2001 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.