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Monday, October 21, 2013

Joshua's Long Day: Some simple geography, and some difficult textual analysis

Joshua 10:11 As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth Horon, Yahweh hurled down great stones from the sky on them to Azekah, and they died. There were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the children of Israel killed with the sword. 12 Then Joshua spoke to Yahweh in the day when Yahweh delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel. He said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still on Gibeon! You, moon, stop in the valley of Aijalon!”
13 The sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Isn’t this written in the book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and didn’t hurry to go down about a whole day. 14 There was no day like that before it or after it, that Yahweh listened to the voice of a man; for Yahweh fought for Israel
. (World English Bible, public domain)

I recently read a penetrating essay on this story, by John Walton, an Old Testament scholar. (By story, I don't mean that we are dealing with fiction, and neither does Walton.) The difficult part of the essay is Walton's comparison of the story of Joshua 10 with similar tales from the surrounding cultures. He analyzes these stories, (most or all of them being fiction, but still an important part of the cultures of nations around Israel) and the language of the Old Testament, and believes that, to Joshua and the Israelites of that time, the story did not mean that Joshua prayed for, and God answered, with some sort of astronomical foundation. But you'd better read Walton to see what he is talking about, and he, himself, seems to not be absolutely sure just what is going on here. His claim, though, is that the story, in spite of the literal reading, is not speaking of some astronomical phenomenon.

The simple geography is in verse 12. According to Walton, Gibeon is in the East, and Aijalon in the West, of where Joshua was at the time. See this map, which shows that Gibeon is, indeed, East of Aijalon. The sun, then, would have been in the morning sky, with the moon near moonset. That is not the way I (and many others, I'm sure) had thought of this story. We supposed that Joshua prayed that the day be extended, because it was getting dark, and he wanted to finish the job. Well, he wanted to finish the job, but it must not have been near dark when he prayed. Walton uses this information to show that the story cannot be taken completely literally.

I'm not sure what happened back then, except that Joshua prayed, his prayer was answered, and God was glorified.

Thanks for reading. I have previously written about Joshua 10, here.


atlibertytosay said...

This is a passage often used by preachers "Sun Stand Still" on the power of prayer …

There are many many things that could have happened including that it didn't rain or it wasn't cloudy so everything could be seen well - both answers for prayer. I've never looked at this passage as a miracle though - miraculous things took place (like the answer to the prayer) but I'm not sure the sun actually stood still - maybe a figure of speech to describe what God did to answer the prayer. (Which He did)

While interesting to compare - I dislike the intent of similar accounts outside of the Bible - ie Gilgamesh/Noah … I honestly think there are other religion's attempts to discredit Judeo-Christian foundations - either saying we had it first or have it too.

This case is no different.

Martin LaBar said...

I have no idea what happened.

Another explanation would be that the Gilgamesh epic is based on the true story of Noah and family, but altered significantly as it was passed down.