Researchers have identified the exact date of one of the oldest solar eclipses recorded in human history, one written in the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament. This new finding could have an immense impact on the world's current knowledge of ancient civilization, starting with revisions in the dates of the Egyptian pharaohs.
By interpreting the passage in the Bible as a solar eclipse, experts from Oxford University now has an extremely accurate signpost to date other ancient events, including the reign of Egyptian pharaohs. It's all thanks to a descriptive passage in Joshua 10:12–13 in the New Revised Standard Version.
The passage, which otherwise can be cryptic, makes sense when interpreted as a literal astronomical event. This excerpt follows Joshua as he led the people of Israel into Canaan, when he prayed.Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: 'Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon,'" the passage goes, from the New International Version of the Old Testament.
"So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day," the excerpt continued.
By interpreting this to mean a solar eclipse, researchers have pinpointed the events on that day to have occurred on Oct. 30, 1207 B.C.
Modern English translations of the passage, which themselves are based on the King James translation in 1611, describes the sun and moon as having halted in the sky, as Professor Sir Colin Humphreys from the University of Cambridge's Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, a co-author of the paper, noted.
The original Hebrew text of this passage, however, is less exact than that. Another alternative interpretation could mean that the sun and moon stopped being the radiant bodies in the sky that they usually are which is just what happens in a solar eclipse.
This alternative interpretation is supported by the fact that the word used has the same root as a Babylonian word to describe eclipses, as Humphreys noted.