First solar eclipse: astronomers check Bible

The first record of a solar eclipse is in the Bible, say scientists from the University of Cambridge.

Colin Humphreys, a physicist at England’s University of Cambridge, and his colleague astrophysicist Graeme Waddington, say a reference in the Book of Joshua refers to a solar eclipse.

Leading the Israelites into battle in Canaan, Joshua said: “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 their enemies.” (Joshua Chapter 10, verses 12-14.)

Humphreys and Waddington have published their research in a scientific journal “Astrophysics and Geosciences”

The scientists began their investigation by translating the Hebrew word “dôm.”

In English versions of the Bible, it’s usually translated as “stopped,” as in the sun “stopped moving.”

He discussed the word with Alan Millard, a professor of Hebrew and ancient Semitic languages.

Humphreys wondered if it meant the sun “stopped shining”.

If so, he thought it might have been referring to an eclipse.

Humphreys then looked for corroboration that the Israelites were in Canaan during the time of a supposed eclipse.

He cross-referenced the Old Testament with an Egyptian text: the Merneptah Stele.

This is a stone inscription produced under the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah.

Scholars think the final few lines of hieroglyphics refer to a battle with the Israelites in Canaan.

Humphreys’ next task was to calculate the exact timing of the eclipse.

He says the Earth was rotating faster than it is now, so this involved calculating its reducing speed.

The three main factors involved tidal friction (resistance from water moving around the planet), the Earth’s distance from the moon – as it’s getting further away from Earth, and the shape of the Earth.

“When ice sheets stretched across the northern hemisphere, Earth was a different shape, so it spun differently.

“All of these variables have to be factored into any equation that attempts to predict a past eclipse,” he says.

He anticipates some pushback – but he’s keen to continue investigating.

“In ancient writings, the Bible or Egyptian writing, you do get records of strange events in the sky.

“The first thing to do is assume these are genuine records and study them,” he says.

“You shouldn’t jump to saying it’s a myth without first looking into it.”

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