According to the biblical story, Joshua got help from the sun to earn the Israelites one of their most epic victories. Now, a team of Israeli scientists say they’ve figured out how: The battle coincided with a solar eclipse.
Using NASA data, three scientists from Beersheba’s Ben Gurion University, in a newly published paper, dated the eclipse and the battle to October 30, 1207 BCE.
Chapter 10 of the Book of Joshua relates that soon after Joshua and the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they waged battle against five armies which laid siege to the Gibeonites. Joshua had promised to protect the Gibeonites, so he led an army and defeated the five kings. Joshua prayed that God help the Israelites in their battle by stopping the sun:
“Then Joshua spoke to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered the Amorites before the children of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel: ‘Sun, stand still [dom] upon Gibeon; and you, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon.'” (Joshua 10:12).
The researchers noted other ancient stories where a deity stops the sun, but said the biblical story is unique because it also mentions the role of the moon. That led them to the conclusion that it referred to a solar eclipse, during which the moon passes in between the sun and the earth, blocking the sunlight.
They interpreted the word “dom,” which only occurs one other time in the Bible (Psalms 37:7), not as “stand still,” which is how it is traditionally read, but to mean “become dark.”
The multi-disciplinary team, led by Dr. Hezi Yitzhak, found that there was only one total solar eclipse that occurred in the region between the years 1500-1000 BCE, when the Israelites are believed to have entered the land. The eclipse allowed them to date the battle precisely to 4:28 p.m. on October 30, 1207 BCE, in their paper, which was published in the most recent edition of Beit Mikra: Journal for the Study of the Bible and Its World.
They also described what they said was the precise location of the battle, and traced a 30-kilometer overnight trek that Joshua and his men made to reach Gibeon, north of Jerusalem, from their encampment in Gilgal, on the eastern edge of Jericho.
The article did not address the nature of the hailstones that, according to the biblical story, killed many people during the battle.
“Not everyone likes the idea of using physics to prove things from the Bible, and I know that it may be interpreted as if you are rationalizing your faith,” Yitzhak told Haaretz on Sunday. “We do not claim that everything written in the Bible is true or took place… but there is also a grain of historical truth that has archaeological evidence behind it.”