The Long Day of Joshua: In Search of Understanding – Part 2

Note: This post is a continuation of two previous posts on this topic.

To read “Rereading Joshua 10:12-13: The Long Day of Joshua,” click here.
To read “The Long Day of Joshua: In Search of Understanding – Part 1,” click here.

The next item to be discussed is the storm that decimated the army of the Amorites. In Scriptures, God often uses storms as his allies in helping the Israelites defeat their enemies. One of these storms is the storm already mentioned in Judges 5:20-21:

“From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon” (ESV).

The poem in Judges 5 is a poetic rendition of the events in chapter 4. The words in verse 20 are a reference to a violent rainstorm that brought about a great downfall of rain and caused the wadi Kishon to rise fast. The mud produced by the flood caused the chariots of Sisera to get stuck, forced Sisera to flee on foot and allowed the army of Israel to defeat the Canaanites.

Another storm sent by God to aid the people of Israel was the seventh sign against the Pharaoh of Egypt. The sign was a violent thunderstorm that was accompanied both by a hailstorm and lightning. According to the biblical text, the storm was so huge that there had never been a storm like it in Egypt in all of its history (Exodus 9:18). The hailstones were big enough that they had the potential to kill every man and beast that was in the field (Exodus 9:19).

In this sign to Pharaoh, it is the intensity of the storm that is emphasized as the work of God. The thunder, lighting, and hail act as God’s agents of judgment. The hail was devastating to animals and plants. As in the previous plague, the people of Israel were spared from the devastation.

In Scripture, hail serves as a tool of divine judgment. Hail is often associated with theophanies (Psalm 18:12-13) and God’s judgment upon Israel’s enemies. There are several examples where hailstones are used as agents of God for judgment:

And the LORD will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones. The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the LORD, when he strikes with his rod (Isaiah 30:30-31).

With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with [Gog], and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur (Ezekiel 38:22).

Thus, it was the intensity of the storm in Joshua 10 that is being emphasized as the agent of God in decimating the army of the Amorites. In my original post I wrote:

When Joshua came to fight against the Amorites, he came at night and caught them by surprise. Joshua was aided by the darkness caused by a huge storm that produced hail so big that it killed many people. In fact, the biblical text says that more people died from the hailstones than the people of Israel killed with the sword.

In his comment, van de Giessen wrote:

There was a storm and this lowered the sight of the Sun and Moon, this storm also explains the hailstones. But because these hailstones were big (big enough to kill people!), this storm couldn’t have a duration of several hours. Most of this kind of storms have nowadays a duration of about 30 minutes. But, according to my view, this theory is the better one.

Two issues raised by van de Giessen deserve attention. First, can the hailstones be so big that they could kill people? The answer seems to be “yes.” It is doubtful that the “stones from heaven” were meteorites since they only decimated the Amorite army. The text itself affirms that the stones were hailstones.

In announcing the storm, Moses warned Pharaoh that the hailstones could kill people and animals. He told Pharaoh:

Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them (Exodus 9:19).

The writer of the book of Revelation describes one of the plagues that will come as part of the divine judgment:

And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe (Revelation 16:21).

It is hard to imagine hailstones weighing one hundred pounds each, but this is the image of divine judgment coming upon God’s enemy. Since van de Giessen mentions that hailstorms last no more than 30 minutes, maybe the miracle of the long day of Joshua was the duration of the storm, that is, that it lasted a long time, long enough to decimate the Amorite army.

The second issue is the discussion of the words דום and עמד as they appear in Joshua 10:12-13.

The biblical text reads:


אָ֣ז יְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה בְּי֗וֹם תֵּ֤ת יְהוָה֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֱמֹרִ֔י לִפְנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר׀ לְעֵינֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל שֶׁ֚מֶשׁ בְּגִבְע֣וֹן דּ֔וֹם וְיָרֵ֖חַ בְּעֵ֥מֶק אַיָּלֽוֹן׃


וַיִּדֹּ֙ם הַשֶּׁ֜מֶשׁ וְיָרֵ֣חַ עָמָ֗ד עַד־יִקֹּ֥ם גּוֹי֙ אֹֽיְבָ֔יו הֲלֹא־הִ֥יא כְתוּבָ֖ה עַל־סֵ֣פֶר הַיָּשָׁ֑ר וַיַּעֲמֹ֤ד הַשֶּׁ֙מֶשׁ֙ בַּחֲצִ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְלֹא־אָ֥ץ לָב֖וֹא כְּי֥וֹם תָּמִֽים׃

“Then Joshua spoke to the Lord, in the day when the Lord gave the Amorite before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel: “Sun, be silent [ דום] in Gibeon, and moon in the valley of Aijalon.”

“And the sun was silent דום and the moon stood עמד until the nation took vengeance on its enemy. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stood עמד in the midst of heaven and did not hasten to go for a whole day” (the translation is mine).

Joshua’s request is clear from the text: ““Sun, be silent דום in Gibeon, and moon [be silent also] in the valley of Aijalon.” Since in verse 12 there is no command to the moon, it is clear that the same command, to be silent, is implied.

As a result of Joshua’s request, “the sun was silent דום and the moon stood עמד” just as Joshua had requested. And to prove that this actually happened, the biblical writer quotes the book of Jashar as evidence: “The sun stood עמד in the midst of heaven and did not hasten to go for a whole day.”

But, a close reading of the text will reveal that the writer of the book of Jashar changed the words of Joshua. Joshua commanded: “Sun, be silent דום” but the writer of the book of Jashar wrote: “The sun stood עמד.” It is this change introduced by the writer of the book of Jashar that creates all the problems of interpretation.

The book of Jashar is mentioned twice in Scriptures: once in Joshua 10:13 and once in 2 Samuel 1:17-18. The latter passage says that David’s lament over Saul and over Jonathan was written in the book of Jashar.

This reference to David’s lament in the book of Jashar means that the book was written after the reign of David. If the book was written, let us say, during the reign of Solomon, then the book of Jashar was written 300 years after the events narrated in the book of Joshua.

Thus, the writer of the book of Jashar is interpreting the words of Joshua at the occasion of the battle of Gibeon and his interpretation changed what Joshua requested. Joshua requested that the sun be silent דום but the writer of the book of Jashar changed Joshua’s words and wrote that the sun stood עמד still.

Had the biblical writer used Joshua’s words only, scholars would not be discussing whether or not the sun stood still, but since he chose to introduce the writings of an unknown writer into the biblical material scholars now have to deal, not with what happened, but with the interpretation of what happened, an interpretation that was written centuries after the event by someone who was not even an eyewitness of the event. The best interpreter of what happened at the battle of Gibeon is not the writer of the book of Jashar, nor his words, but Joshua and what his words requested.

In conclusion, it seems that what Joshua desired was more darkness and not more light. The biblical narrative, minus the interpretation of the event in the book of Jashar, does not support the interpretation that the sun stood still for almost a whole day.

As for Velikovsky’s collections of legends about the sun standing still, they may be related to the biblical account just as the many stories of great floods are related to a primeval account that also gave rise to the story of the flood in the days of Noah.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Note:

If you are unable to see the Hebrew letters in the essay, download the Biblical fonts and install them on your computer. Download the fonts here.

The Long Day of Joshua Series

Rereading Joshua 10:12-13: The Long Day of Joshua

The Long Day of Joshua: In Search of Understanding – Part 1

The Long Day of Joshua: In Search of Understanding – Part 2

This entry was posted in Book of Joshua, Hebrew Bible, Joshua, Old Testament and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Long Day of Joshua: In Search of Understanding – Part 2

  1. A very good post, I’ve added some observations of meteor-storms in the Middle-East on my blog. Further I discussed it couldn’t be meteorites, and that there are no large findings of meteorites in Israel. At last I’ve discussed the meteorological side of a hail-storm, with a picture of a large hailstone I found. Most is in Dutch, but the observations and some other parts are in English. You can find it here. For those interested I’ve also place an article about the “Missing Day”.

    Like

  2. Oh, come on, the long day of Joshua fits perfectly with ancient cosmology where the sun traversed the brass firmament sky. It’s myth. See my Blog for details on this and other myths.

    Like

  3. John,

    Thank you for your comment. I believe that many people have misunderstood the idea of a long day in the text of Joshua and have emphasized the view that the sun stopped in the middle of the sky. However, it is my contention, and I think the text supports it, that the focus of the story is on the storm that decimated the army of Israel’s enemy.It is only the interpretation of the event by the writer of the book of Jashar that gives the impression that the sun stood still. Even the words in Hebrew are different. Eliminate the interpretation and there is no sun standing still. Take Joshua at his words and we have darkness and not sunlight.The story of the sun standing in the same place for almost 24 hours is myth. The story of a storm that decimates an army could be based on historical facts.Thank you for your comment.

    Claude Mariottini

    Like

  4. But surely, since the words of Joshua fit perfectly with ancient cosmogany the readers would have understood that the sun stood still. Any Bible dictionary worth it’s salt, especially Anchor BD and Harper’s BD will show what the ancient Hebrews believed about the universe. The only reason you say otherwise is not because of the text…it’s because you are a modern person who sees things in the text that no ancient person would have understood that way. Context…context…context. This applies not just to the word or the sentence or the paragraph or the chapter or the book. It applies to the culture climate of that day. And in that day the sun could easily be stopped in the sky by God with the snap of his fingers.

    Like

  5. Dear John,

    I appreciate your argument but I do not think your conclusion is right. It is true that people in antiquity had a geocentric view of the solar system and from their perspective, it seemed that the sun stood still. But just because they believed that the sun could stand still, it does not mean that the sun stood still.You conclude you comment by saying that “in that day the sun could easily be stopped in the sky by God with the snap of his finger.” It is possible that God could have stopped the sun with the snap of his finger, but he didn’t.The words of Joshua do not say that the sun stopped in the middle of the sky. The person who interpreted the event is the one who said the sun stood still. That the sun stood still is only an interpretation of what happened by someone who was not even a witness of what happened that day.Again, thank you for your comment.

    Claude Mariottini

    Like

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi ClaudeI Googled my way to your discussion which I found fascinating, and quite an insightful teasing apart of ‘Yashar’ from ‘Joshua’. Stephen Meyers discusses Ancient Near Eastern parallels on his webpages ( http://www.bibleandscience.com/bible/books/genesis/genesis1_sunstoodstill.htm ) that might be germane. Also the ‘100 talent hailstones’ of the Apocalypse are the exact mass of stone shots from Roman siege ballistas – thus God is returning fire on the Romans, so to speak.Hope that helps.sincerely

    Adam Crowl

    Like

  7. Pingback: Studies on The Long Day of Joshua | A disciple's study

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s